September 17, 2009

Gear, Girls, and Grit!:
Chicks Rock Devil's Lake Climbing Trip

When I entered the Pemba Serves contest to win a spot at the first-ever Chicks Rock Climbing Clinic I figured it was a long shot. However, after a little persuasion from my friends and realizing how much I needed a vacation I went for it. After all, how could I not at least try to be in on this amazing new adventure from the awesome ladies that produce Chicks With Picks ice climbing clinics? So I submitted the essay and put it to the back of my mind.

The day the winner was announced I was at the zoo with my friends and they can tell you when I received the email (thank you iPhone for prompt delivery) I was in disbelief. I actually emailed David at Pemba Serves a few times, just to make sure I understood correctly. After confirming my win I immediately went into logistics mode. The trip was a week away, I would need to arrange travel on Labor Day, get the time off work, coordinate a ride to Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin from Madison, find a pet sitter, well the list goes on. However after some amazing help and generous offers from people in Wisconsin and overwhelming kindness of my father (time off work, air miles for a plane ticket and hotel room, AND dog sitting) I was ready to go.

I woke up at 3:00 am on Labor Day morning to catch my early morning shuttle to the airport and took the ride time to think about what my expectations were for the trip. I have been to climbing camp before with Women’s Wilderness Institute however that experience is a little different. So I tried to consciously be aware I wouldn’t be repeating the same trip, I would be doing something new. I also figured at this point I would be one of the older or mid-aged ladies on the trip. Turn out I was the baby surrounded by wonderful accomplished women from various backgrounds and experience levels.

When I arrived at Madison I met the first amazing woman of the bunch, Amanda. She had graciously offered to shuttle myself and Eileen (@rockgrrl) to Devil’s Lake via her rental car. Since Eileen would be arriving in a few more hours we left the airport and grabbed some lunch. Then we swung by and grabbed Eileen and we were off to Devil’s Lake. The drive from Madison was gorgeous with rolling hills, cute towns, and lots of farms. When we finally arrived to Devil’s Lake State Park I was blown away. The area is so well maintained and huge!

Finally we arrived at our campsite happy to meet our guides: Kitty Calhoun and Angela Hawse (courtesy of Patagonia and Marmot respectively), base camp managers Vera Naputi and Anne Hughes, and the Head Chick: Kim Reynolds. We also got to meet Brad Werntz from Pemba Serves and his munchkins.

It felt so good to relax and just take in the scenery and the best part? Our Marmot tent and sleeping bags were ready! Eileen and I got settled into our space and then we awaited the arrival of the other attendees. As they trickled in we had a nice meet and greet then a formal introduction of one another and what to expect throughout the week as well as pizza! That’s right, you can have pizza delivered in Devil’s Lake, who knew?

We then broke into our teaching groups and the ladies who needed gear were fortunate enough try out awesome demos. Petzl provided helmets, harnesses, belay devices and ropes. Scarpa provided various styles of climbing shoes. While I love my gear very much I was considering trying out a few of the demo items myself.

After climbing for 3 years it is a little disheartening to be put in the Level One group, though with my lack of consistency in training and areas for improvement it was a great fit. Not to mention the ladies on my team and my instructor Angela, rocked! We had time to talk with Angela about our personal goals for the week. My goal was not to push to a higher grade but to perfect more fluid movement so those next grades will come easier, more naturally.

After some time by the campfire we all headed to the bathrooms to clean up (yes, real bathrooms with running water and showers) and then headed to bed. However being a little giddy and exhausted Eileen and I proceeded with GiggleFest 2009. We finally fell asleep and I crashed hard.

The next morning we were woke to the aroma of hot coffee made fresh with the sassy JetBoil systems provided by Pemba Serves. Before indulging in the coffee and breakfast I did a little yoga to get centered and stretched for the day. We chatted a bit around the breakfast table, packed up sandwiches and snacks and headed to the crag. The approach was relatively short and consisted of some very large steps of large rocks. My tush and quads had quite the warm-up.

When we reached the climbing area we broke into our groups. My group consisted of myself – a good foundation of climbing principles and safety but in need of more application to improve, Amanda- a climbing virgin, Carrie - a former Outward Bound river guide who was ready to bringing climbing back into her life, and Rita - a climbing accident survivor/runner/amazing hostess with a car trunk that resembled Mary Poppin’s carpet bag (seriously amazing and delicious treats just kept appearing!)

Now at this point I could get all technical on the climbs, but that’s not my style. Now I know for my climber friends you want the details so if you want more email and ask me. For the sake of not boring my non-climbing friends to sleep on their keyboards I will give an overview.

We started out with the basics of tying in and belaying. While this was not new to me I was happy to see the way Angela teaches these skills because new perspective and tips are always beneficial. We worked on routes that weren’t very challenging technically but they were great for people new to climbing, revisiting climbing, or first-timers to this area and particular rock. I don’t get outside nearly as much as I should. It was good to work through the easier climbs to work on my route identification skills.

After a full day of climbing it was time to head back to camp and get cleaned up to head to the town of Baraboo. I had no idea what to expect in this small town, it turns out it could have been the town in the movie “Back to the Future” completely with the clock tower in the center of town. We had dinner and a cute little restaurant that was part diner part supper club. The food was delicious, portions hearty and I was a full girl ready for a good night’s sleep. We made our way back to camp and after some more girlie chatting with Eileen I was off to dream land.

Day two began with another round of yoga and breakfast then off to the crag. We dove right into climbing on some great routes including an easy overhang (actually I think that was the name of the route). I love overhangs and high-step moves so this route was a lot of fun for me. We then moved over to a nice easy chimney. I never know whether I am going to enjoy a chimney. They can be uncomfortably narrow, darker, or just made of sharp rock. This one was nice, easy and a lot of fun. We had some lunch and continued moving on to more routes. Day two was really packed with climbing, just sticking with it, offering each other beta and working to gain more balance and fluid movement.

Back at camp that evening we had an awesome catered dinner. While part of me really missed cooking on camp stoves and getting creative it was also a treat to have time to shower, relax and just sit back and be taken care of. Again dinner was filled with great conversation and even a week later I can’t believe how lucky I am to have been in the company of such extraordinary women. From the guides to the base camp managers to the attendees each woman had an amazing unique history. These women also shared a common fire to push themselves to work hard, play hard and enjoy every moment of it.
That evening at the campfire we were encouraged to ask questions, have an open dialogue and just explore our fears and desires when it comes to climbing. Kim also surprised us with a tasty campfire classic, S’MORES!!! I have never been terribly big on sweets (except cupcakes!) but I am a sucker for S’MORES!

The next morning was the same routine with the added task of packing our bags for our late afternoon departure. Just as we were ready to head to the crag James Edward Mills from the Joy Trip Project joined us and we were off. By day three we were all a bit tired so the approach was mellower and we took our time getting on the rock. It was a great day of climbing though. This was the day we really pulled it all together. First, Angela took us up for a demonstration of anchor systems which was great!

All of my anchor building education has been using natural anchors or bolted anchors. Angela showed us various anchors using cams and nuts and then we put them to the test. It was time to rappel down. While this wasn’t my first time rappelling I always get nervous. It’s the walking off the edge that gets me. Angela helped me get past that by encouraging me to take in more slack on the rope, finally I found my technique!

During the last day of climbing we worked on some climbs that I couldn’t finish. I was pumpy tired and they featured a lot of cracks and jams which aren’t my strength. However I worked them as long as I could and took a few falls. While that isn’t normally something to be proud of it is for me. It means I went outside of my comfort zone and took some risks.

Back at camp we did a final closing circle. Our instructors took a moment to tell us their observations and then we were able to share our thoughts and feelings. Angela’s assessment of me was both light-hearted and insightful. She recognized and brought to light my strengths and flat out told me that cracks and jams are the barrier I have to break through if I want to improve.

After we said our goodbyes Amanda, Eileen, and I head back to Madison for the night. We piled into the hotel room, got cleaned up and headed out to dinner. We were fortunate to be joined by Darren (aka @canoelover) for a bit. Then we stopped for ice cream and headed back to the hotel. Not much longer after we got back and I was fast asleep.

I awoke early, snuck out as quietly as possible, and headed to the airport. On the plane I thought a lot about what an amazing week it had been. I learned so much about myself and was exposed to such a high caliber of people. I am so thankful to Pemba Serves and my father for making this trip happen for me, to the great sponsors Petzl, Marmot, Scarpa and Patagonia for supporting women’s programs, and of course to those spectacular women that made the trip a magical adventure.

Thanks to Brad at Pemba Serves for snapping this pic of me. For more pictures and coverage visit!

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